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The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew - Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (C. 1599-1600) 


It was early evening. He was stretched out on the grass. Exhausted. Above him were trees in full bloom, and beyond them the sky with great cottony clouds passing by. He was humming a song that had become quite his favourite from a recent movie he had seen when his friend handed him over a used cigarette. Pressing the butt between his lips, he imagined himself to be looking like some actor. “How wonderful would it be if a director from up inside the skies would spot me and offer me a role in his movie where the song I love would be re-picturised on me.” He made known with such significance. “Wake up!” exclaimed his friend as he held before him half a slice of dried bread, “For all you know we might be quite looking like used paper bags strewn about on the floor for anyone who would spot us from that distance.” He grinned wearily at what his friend had just expressed. “You very well know that paper bags don’t get roles in movies now, don’t you,” his friend went on, “the only thing that they would see would be the inside of wastebaskets.” They chuckled and lay next to each other, too tired to talk more.

It turned to night rather swiftly. Their bodies now reposed, both of them embarked towards home; a makeshift shelter that four of them shared in a ghetto meant for a certain minority community. Whilst walking, they came across a bunch of men embroiled in an argument. He strolled up to them. One of the men stopped talking and turned to him. He had glassy eyes and his face appeared hard-bitten from the vagaries of life. “What?” He snarled. He pointed to the puncture. “Oh,” he said brusquely, “I didn’t realise.” He smiled back kindly at the ill-mannered man. “Change it, you dunce,” growled another man curtly from the same cluster. He bobbed his head and waved out for his friend who was standing at a distance. The friend came closer to him. “These arseholes don’t seem like they merit any help.” He patted his friend gently on his shoulders and pointed to the sky above. “Last I heard they were looking for a replacement of Mother Teresa . . . and this time they aren’t advertising for any particular gender, so . . .” He smiled and asked his friend to hold the wheel as he seized the spanner and began unscrewing the bolts. While they were changing the tyre, they heard the three men quarrel about the failing economic state of the country and how nearly everything around the world was taking a turn for the worse. Two of the fellows were moderate in their views, and the one with the glassy eyes and hardened face was the venomous of the entire lot. He was incapable to accept a viewpoint that did not align with his own and used his voice in full capacity in order to display his raucous resistance. The spare tyre now secured in its place, his friend and he dusted their hands and gave the men a nod before making away. The men were so knotted in their row that they had overlooked to offer them any monetary reward. Humming his favourite tune, they were hardly a few steps away when one of the men called out loud. “Hey!” he barked, “Come back here and take this!” He noticed that the man was holding a bill of cash. “Thank you,” he said loud enough to be heard, “we didn’t help you for the money.” The man rolled his eyes and returned to the squabble with his associates.  

“So what did you think about what they were speaking about the state of the country?” asked his friend, the breeze jesting about fondly on their skin. “Really?” he said squinting, “Do poor people like us enjoy the luxury to indulge in subjects like those?” His friend smiled. “I know what you mean, but we can have an opinion, can’t we?” He stopped walking and twisted his torso to face his friend. “Who would care for our opinion, eh? These rich people cannot even change a tyre and they talk of society like it were a shop. They have nothing worthy to call it a conversation simply because their bellies are full, and we have nothing worthy to call a conversation simply because our empty bellies leave us no room for theories. It is enough if we keep ourselves occupied with thinking about how best to secure our next meal than indulging in world affairs, don’t you think.” 

He was a graduate, but worked as a daily wage operative at construction sites owing to the markets that were dreadfully haemorrhaging despite the media stating otherwise. There was no saviour in sight as the press was tortuously controlled by the ruling leadership, and in such a forbidding scenario, steady employment was extremely hard to come by. If by some stroke of luck something fruitful had ensued between you and your freelance work provider, you were conferred a contract with a construction firm that took care of your income for a minimum of three months, and after that, it was back to square one. It was at such trying times, with no apparent sign of any hope that life became not only troubling, but also demoralising, and his fellow mates and he humoured themselves to petty crimes, the only assured method that offered them meals daily at the local lockup. They also had, over the years, come to an understanding with the police – they shared with them some of their income as a barter of them letting them use the prison facilities until they had not found themselves a steady stream of income again. 

Before tossing away the soiled piece of paper that the samosas were wrapped in, something grabbed his attention. He looked at his friend. “Did you see this?” he said, handing over the piece of paper on which was a picture of the house of the richest man on earth. His friend glanced at the snippet, “Whoa, twenty-five floors for what? After all we sleep in one, we shit in one, and we fuck in one.” They both laughed as his friend crumpled the soiled paper into a ball, flung it on the floor and kicked it as it went flying in the air, and onto the road where it was runover by an automobile.

Owing to their regularity of visiting the police station, the head constable had become a friend of sorts. As they sat one evening inside the cell, a rat was scampering nearby. He asked the head constable if he was happy with his job considering he was a part of the majority that were claiming stake of this nation as nobody else’s but their own. “What can I say,” said the head constable, “we are nothing but puppets of the politicians, and whether we have a conscience or not, we have to carry out our duties that the uniform demands.” He became thoughtfully silent and watched how the rat ran about here and there frantically in order to escape the piercing eyes of the cat that had now entered the cell. The rat, he observed at first was nimble, and past a few minutes his speed slackened, and that was exactly when he ended up being devoured by the chubby cat who smacked her lips and made away mewing like she had won a jackpot of a meal. “And what about when you are off your uniform?” he asked. “I am as human as anybody else. I love those who love me. I don’t look at it via the lens of caste, class or culture.” He rested his back to the cold wall of the lockup. “What do you think has gone wrong with the world?” The head constable breathed deeply, “I wish I could answer that.”  

Once out of the lockup, he knocked at the door of a woman he often visited. They had met on a worksite, and ever since then he had grown into a habit of calling upon her for sexual musts. They asked no questions, offered no explanations, and purely followed whatever their bodies led them to whenever such appetites were aroused in their groins. He was dabbing away his sweat from his armpits with a tiny towel after a satisfactory session of intercourse when she informed him that she was leaving the country because things for their community were getting unhealthier by the day. He met her declaration with thorough disbelief. “We are born here and we will die here,” he declared with some deliberation, “how can you even think of leaving your land?” She sauntered up to him and held his face in her hands tenderly. They exchanged a prolonged look, a look that said more than what words might have been able to convey. 

A week later certain parts of the city were struck by communal insurgence. He was enroute his house from the house of this woman when a mob confronted him. He recognised that they were the same men whom he had helped with the tyre puncture. They asked him bitterly as they began hammering him with blows if he had thought that he was a hero to have refused the money that they had offered him that day. His face pale with fright, he pleaded that they let him go because what he had done was not for any benefits but purely out of help to humanity. The hard-faced fellow gripped his jaw forcefully and squeezed it as he glared wrathfully into his mild eyes. He ordered him to chant some words of their deities. He did as he was told. They beat him further stating that they abhorred to hear names of their gods spoken from an unclean mouth such as his. He was about to say something when another man picked up a medium sized boulder from the side of the pavement and cast him a deadly blow to his head from behind. He dropped to the ground in an instant. The rest of the men kicked him mercilessly just as somebody in the cruel cluster lifted the same blood-spattered boulder and bludgeoned him to death. 

When the news of his murder reached her, she opened a canister of rat poison and gulped it down her throat. 

In no time people had assembled at the scene of the killing. 
“Move away to some place safer I had warned him long ago,” said someone, “and he had said, ‘these are my people, they won’t hurt me’ and see what his people have done to him! See!”
“He deserved it,” murmured someone.  
“For what?” someone else asked.
“Do I need to answer that?” said another man present there. 
“Today you are enjoying this, but remember that . . .” 
“That every dog has its day,” completed another. 
“I think everyone from his creed must be doomed to die in a similar fashion,” voiced someone else astringently.
“What a dreary time to live in when people think like this,” whispered another and walked away. 

The whiff of his butchery had spread over social media like wildfire. Though the police took their own time to arrive, the head constable dashed to the spot of the crime. The instant he set his eyes on him, he felt an unexplainable bite in his heart – to see someone as caring and ebullient as him lying there dead was something he felt was the worst form of injustice that god’s creatures could have ever bestowed upon him. He closed his eyes and tried to compose himself when the commissioner drew up in his car. A shifty and fidgety man, the commissioner inspected the corpse. The staff around him were awaiting orders when he grinned at them and said in the jolliest tone, “Seeing this blood reminds me that I have some strawberry pies in my jeep.” He paused and consulted his wristwatch, and then gestured that his staff fetch him the box from his jeep. He began then chomping on the strawberry pie with the body of an innocent man resting a few inches away, flies now feasting on the open wounds of the departed. Once done, he threw the box on the body and made away in his jeep.  

The following day the headlines read – 

Young man from a minority community atoned for his wrongdoings. He was carrying on him meat of an animal that was sacrosanct to the nation. Killed brutally by unidentified assailants. The police has closed the case due to lack of any evidence on the site, and due to the fact that there was no manner in which to find who had done this since there were no eye witnesses, or any kind of camera footage to provide any concrete proof.  

The head constable who used a pseudonym online, tweeted: Before leaving they left a bag of animal meat near him to mislead everyone that he was killed because he was carrying on him that meat. The Truth: he was a vegetarian. 

The public went berserk that someone from the their community was so agreeably in support of the minority. Organisations swore that if they unearthed the identity of the individual they would decapitate him.

Two days later, the head constable was discovered by his subordinates in a pool of blood. The cause: he had accidently moved the trigger while cleaning the gun that had resulted in his death.

The internet rejoiced. And so did majority of the people. 

His friend was stretched out on the same spot that he was killed. The trees were blooming, as usual. The sky was clear, as usual. Tears streamed down the corners of his eyes. He made no attempt to wipe them.